Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Walt Whitman: A Biography

Walt Whitman: A Biography

Milton Metzer
For ages 12 and up
Lerner, 2006   ISBN: 978-0761322726

Walt Whitman was the son of a Long Island farmer who did carpentry work on the side. He was a stern father, one not given to displaying affection, and who was not always easy to live with. One thing which he did pass on to his son was his love of books and his political beliefs. He taught his children to always distrust the rich and powerful. They were "the enemy" and one should not be swayed by their rhetoric. Instead one should "think for oneself."

When Walt was still a little boy his family moved to Brooklyn and at the age of eleven Walt got a job as an office boy. This was not usual in the early 1800's because there were not, as yet, any child labor laws. Walt's family needed him to work and so he did.

Not long after getting his first job Walt began to learn the printing trade. He set type and later he became a printer himself. This was something that he did, off and on, for many years. Though he did work as a teacher and in offices for a while, Walt kept on coming back to printing and writing.

In 1855 Walt finally decided to self publish a volume of poems which he had written. "Leaves of Grass" did not attract a lot of attention when it first came out, but over the years Walt added to it and edited some of the poems. The volume ended up becoming enormously popular and Walt was lauded as one of America's greatest poets.

Milton Metzer is an excellent biographer because he not only tells the story of Walt Whitman's life but he also sets the scene for his story, giving the events described a context. He explores the inner evolution of this extraordinary man, looking at the ways in which he moved from being a rather radical ?man of the people,' to a rather conservative person who could not accept the fact that African Americans needed to have the same rights as white people. He wanted to free the slaves but he did not want a person of color have the right to vote.

Throughout the book the author uses Walt Whitman's poems to show us how the poet incorporated his thoughts about his daily wanderings and experiences into his writings. The end result is a book which is interesting and thought provoking.